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Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide

January 30,2018

Experts Discuss How to Attract, Develop, Retain Tomorrow’s Military

By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity
From DoDLive, the official Blog of the Department of Defense

Who’s willing to serve in tomorrow’s military?

It’s a question military leaders and experts continue to ask as national trends show the military-civilian divide is growing as fewer young people have direct connections to service members and veterans.

Recently, Amber Smith, the deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for outreach, joined other experts to discuss how that divide affects the all-volunteer force going into the future. The discussion comes as the Defense Department’s new initiative, This Is Your Military, kicks off to bridge that gap.

Here were some of the biggest takeaways from the discussion.

Time away from family is the top concern for service members and their spouses.

According to Blue Star Families’ 2017 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, nearly 70 percent of service members and their spouses said current operational tempo is making life unsustainable. All of the duty station moves, deployments, odd schedules and lack of flexible child care led to this issue being No. 1 in 2017.

Military spouses also need to have meaningful careers.

Military spouses join their service members at nearly every duty station. But that can often mean moving to small, middle-of-nowhere towns where the job market isn’t great. For spouses with their own careers and state-based licenses, this is tough. They often can’t find work that fits their careers.

Blue Star Families CEO Kathy Roth-Douquet said options to work remotely and to give spouses better chances at government services jobs could help.

“We think this is an extremely solvable problem. It just needs attention,” she said.

This is also an issue with educated people who are considering joining the military but don’t want to enter at the lowest rank. Dr. David Chu of the Institute of Defense Analyses said perhaps allowing more career fields, much like doctors, lawyers and clergy, to make lateral entries into the force could help.

Figuring out the needs of female service members is key.

“We really need female service members. It’s not a ‘nice to have’ – it’s a ‘need to have,’” said Roth-Douquet. In order to recruit the best and brightest women, she said, “We have to understand what the needs are of the service members who can choose not to serve.”

Now that nearly all military roles are available to women, taking care of their needs is of vital importance. Flexibility is crucial, especially when it comes to child care.

Recruitment must expand into new areas and career fields.

While the South is one of the military’s biggest recruitment pools, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said only one in 10 recruits comes from New England – the opposite side of the spectrum. But why?

Again, it has a lot to do with the civilian-military divide.

“Most people have no idea why we do what we do,” Roth-Douquet said.

She suggested having all 18-year-olds take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test. This could open young people’s eyes to a military careers they never knew they could have, as well as help recruiters, too.

The This Is Your Military initiative can help expand knowledge about military careers to a larger audience.

“We’ll always need the trigger-pullers, but we also need cyber, people in medical fields and engineers,” Smith said.

Click here to link to the blog.